Women Less Likely To Receive CPR Because Of Their Breasts, Studies Show

Lifesaving chivalry is dead, and two new studies from the U.S. purport to know why.

When it comes to your likelihood of receiving bystander CPR if you experience a sudden cardiac arrest in public, your gender may determine whether you live or die.

Two new studies presented at the American Heart Association's conference examined why women are less likely receive lifesaving aid, and sought ways to address it.

A new survey undertaken by Colorado researchers asked 54 people to explain why women might be less likely to get CPR when they collapse in public.

"Women will potentially receive no CPR or delays in initiation of CPR," lead author Sarah Perman said.

In the replies, the team identified four main reasons for this:

  • Potentially inappropriate touching or exposure/ fear of being accused of sexual assault;
  • Fear of causing physical injury;
  • Poor recognition of women in cardiac arrest -- (specifically a perception that women are less likely to have heart problems, or may "faking" it);
  • The misconception that breasts make CPR more challenging.

"Although the study was too small to discern definite trends, these concerns may represent an important challenge in public health messaging," Perman said.

IMAGE: Getty Images

A separate research team in Philadelphia tested a novel approach to exploring bystander response to cardiac arrest -- also based on the victim's sex -- but this time using virtual reality (VR).

Because it happens suddenly, real-world cardiac arrest is hard to study, said Marion Leary, lead study author and director of innovation research at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Resuscitation Science.

"We saw less CPR and (automated external defibrillato) AED use on our female avatar victims than on our male avatar victims in our immersive virtual reality sudden cardiac arrest study," she told 10 daily.

READ MORE: Pregnant Wife Gives CPR To Husband In Cardiac Arrest Day Before Giving Birth

READ MORE: Couple's Love Story Started With A CPR Kiss

Seventy-five participants wore a VR headset and interacted with a CPR dummy in a virtual scenario. The dummy was presented in a randomised way --  as either male or female.

Their results showed that people (especially men), were more likely to perform CPR and use an automated external defibrillator on men.

These studies build on research from 2017 which found men were 1.23 times more likely to receive CPR than women.

Men were also found to be nearly two times more likely to survive a cardiac event after bystander CPR.

What Can Be Done About This?

The researchers said the most obvious take away from their data is that health bodies need to find better and more effective ways to educate the general public on the importance of providing bystander CPR.

Leary said using virtual reality (VR) enabled her team to learn more about bystander response and how to improve CPR training courses.

Photo Taken In Serbia, Belgrade

"We will need to begin to consider that CPR educational efforts can not focus on a one-size fits all victim for every training," she told 10 daily.

CPR training programs often use a standardised, male dummy and often things like gender and race aren't addressed. 

"This could include creating 'man'-ikins that represent not just male victims, but also female victims, and it could also include beginning to educate lay bystanders around the disparities that exist," she said.

Perman adds that helping -- and doing it quickly -- is the most important message for the public.

"While these are actual fears the public holds, it is important to realise that CPR is lifesaving and should be rendered to collapsed individuals regardless of gender, race or ethnicity," she said.

When people step in and take action in the first few minutes after someone collapses, the chance of survival dramatically increases.

Australia's Training And Response

While there is no national registry of sudden cardiac arrest, the Australian Heart Foundation estimates that 25,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest outside of hospital in Australia every year.

IMAGE: Getty Images

Currently only 10 percent of these people survive.

Less than half of people who suffer a cardiac arrest in the community have someone step in to do CPR, or use an AED before an ambulance arrives.

Red Cross Australia Senior First Aid Trainer, Janie McCullagh told 10 daily the organisation continues to bust myths so people are empowered to be first responders.

“We remind people that CPR is a life saver, and if you accidentally break a rib when helping someone survive, they will recover from it."

She said, as first aid trainers, they educate people on how important it is to go one third of the way down a person’s chest, regardless of their gender, age or size.

“CPR can be done clothed, removing bulky clothing, and applying a defibrillator is really the only scenario which requires direct contact to the skin -- and embarrassment shouldn’t get in the way of saving a person’s life," she said.

Featured image: Getty Images

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au